People tend to make a lot of presumptions about where I work. We’re an urban campus, located on the south side of Chicago, so they usually don’t expect to find many green spaces here. And as a university focused on STEM fields, Illinois Tech is usually the last place they’d expect to see a chapel. Visit us, though, and you will find both in my favorite place on campus.
When I joined the Illinois Tech community in 2007, there was one question that I heard more often than any other from people both inside the university and without. “You’re the Spiritual Director — at IIT? Aren’t they just a bunch of atheists over there?”
The fact is, of course, that nothing could be farther from the truth. The question falsely presumes that in order to be a good scientist, one cannot be a person of faith. It is a stereotype that our students face today, and it is one that faced our students in the aftermath of WWII. In the 1950s, 95 percent of Americans identified themselves as “religious,” with 68 percent Protestant, 23 percent Catholic, and 4 percent Jewish. Yet at this same time, the war had left many people uneasy on the subject of science and religion.
The relationship between science and religion need not be adversarial, however. The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago’s Bishop Wallace E. Conkling recognized this. He envisioned the Chapel as a place where students interested in the future of technology could form a positive union of the two, calling it a “great educational project of the atomic age.”
Legendary architect Mies van der Rohe brought this vision to life in 1952, with an ecumenical design that very much lives up to his famous dictum “less is more.” An intentionally simple space, it is nevertheless powerful and encourages introspection. Though located just steps away from both a residence hall and our student center, Carr is an oasis of calm and peace. It faces away from the rest of the campus, towards the morning’s rising sun, and looks out onto a quiet, green expanse dotted with trees and picnic tables.
Given its quiet nature and small size, this architectural and spiritual gem is a hidden treasure. It is unknown to many who walk nearby never guessing its true identity. There is no stained glass here, no spire, nothing that many people traditionally think of when then think of a church. No, this space does not shout. It whispers. Those open to hearing its call, Carr Chapel invites to find moments of calm and clarity. All are welcome.
A 1948 issue of our student newspaper proudly noted that there were “nearly 100 students from 30 different countries attending IIT”; today, we have approximately 3,900 international students, representing 100 countries. As America became a more robustly diverse nation, so did the campus. The use of Carr Chapel reflects this. In the 1950s and 60s, religious services here included only Christian denominations — Episcopal, Lutheran, Catholic. Today a variety of faiths use, or have used, the chapel. This has been the site of all kinds of services, celebrations, and interfaith discussions. Prior to the creation of IIT’s masjid, the Muslim Students Association used Carr for prayer. Christians from all over the world come together here for worship.
For 64 years, this chapel has served the students of Illinois Tech, providing generations of scientists of all faiths with a spiritual home and a place at which to reflect on the deepest of life’s questions. Students and alumni have been married here, had their children baptized here, and memorialized lost loved ones. Every week, students gather to pray, to celebrate, to challenge one another to grow to become their best selves. In this place, they are offered a reminder that they need not choose between their academic aspirations and their spirituality; here, they may be in their wholeness.
This post is part of our #CampusSnapshots series, a fun look at our favorite spots on campus. We will see pictures snapped by #SApros of all kinds and hear why they love that spot! For more info, please see Sabina’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Matt Cummings on Spirituality, Service, and Assessment